Episode #9: Ania Gruszczynska’s story


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Ania GruszczynskaDr Ania Gruszczynska completed a PhD in sociology at Aston University in Birmingham, UK in 2009 and has since worked in a variety of project management roles in higher education sector. She is currently working as an IT project manager at Birmingham City University where she is responsible for software projects and developing good project management standards.

In addition, she is a qualified coach and brings her understanding of post-PhD transitions into her part-time coaching practice (phdcareercoach.co) where she supports people who have big goals such as finishing a PhD or transitioning into a more fulfilling job. She is also a keen runner and a yoga fan, and tweets about her passions at @akgruszczynska.

“I never really believed in the whole things about transferable skills until a good couple of years ago when, first of all, I discovered that there was a proper job title of PM which contained everything I actually really enjoyed about my PhD. You know, all the planning and organizing. The PhD itself is a long term project! “

– Dr Ania Gruszczynska, Project Manager.

Transcript

Michele:– Hi, welcome to PhD career stories podcast. My name is Michele Manzo and I am co-founder of this podcast experience. I am also author of the third episode of this podcast series. So if you want to know more about me and my transition from academia to industry, please refer to episode #3.

Today I am pleased to introduce a new format of our podcast, namely, the interview, and I am also proud to have our first guest, our first international guest: Ania Gruszczynska, from the UK. She is currently working as PM, and she is also involved in career coach for graduated and PhD students. But we will know more about her directly from her.
Hello Ania and welcome to PhD career stories!

Ania:– Hello and welcome. I really really appreciate the opportunity to be here, so thanks for the invite.

Michele:– Thank you very much Ania for being here with us today. I also wish to highlight that you found PhD Career stories through our website, and decided to tell us your story, to collaborate with us. I want to say that we really appreciate that, and we hope that this could inspire other to tell their stories as well.

But Ania, why don’t you tell us a little bit more about your current position and your engagement in the UK?

Ania:– Right. I work as an IT PM, in the IT Dept. at Birmingham City University in the Software and Web Applications Development team, which, when I summarize the past 6 years to people and say:”I am PhD in Sociology turned IT PM”. People do a little of a double take and go like: “What? How do you go from a PhD focused on gay and lesbian movements in Poland to work in the IT Department as PM and developing software?”. So it has certainly been an interesting 6 years since graduating from Houston University in Birmingham

Michele:– And I guess you are a living example of what Tina was talking about in episode 4, when she was talking about transferable skills. A PhD students can learn a lot of skills during their PhD and find out later on in life that they can apply them to a different field. What is your opinion regarding this?

Ania:– I never really believed in the whole things about transferable skills until a good couple of years ago when, first of all, I discovered that there was a proper job title of PM which contained everything I actually really enjoyed about my PhD. You know, all the planning and organizing. The PhD itself is a long term project!

But then I find myself reflecting on a daily basis that all of the things I learnt through my PhD, I am actually using in my day job. So my daily job is about helping people introducing and developing new software. So even in the past couple of weeks I was doing workshops with people looking at their requirements, which it is what I did during my PhD when I did focus groups. Some of that process of requirements-gathering involves individual conversations, which is very much the semi-structured interviews I did during my PhD. I constantly have to train people on various bits and pieces of the software, and the process of buying the software more in general. And, once again, that is something I learnt during my PhD: how to teach, how to facilitate workshop. And then last, but not least, pretty much all of the times I have to write and communicate in writing, so the life of a PM is all about reporting and putting together plans and pulling together all sorts of information, and make it look coherent, and, once again, that is something I learnt as PhD students when doing my lectures review.

Michele:– Well Ania, that is at the same time comforting and inspiring. But let’s take a little step back and let’s go back to the time when you finished your PhD. What were the steps you put into practice straight after completing your studies?

Ania:– I finished my PhD 6 years ago and initially the plan has always been that I would go into academia and that I would move in to a lectureship, an academic position. And through my PhD I was trying to do all the things you are supposed to do. You know, get the publication, go to conferences, get the teaching experiences.

But then increasingly I found myself thinking: ”Do I really want all of that?” Because, first of all, I realized that the social sciences job market in the UK is quiet horrible. I realized that even to have a shot at an academic position it could take me as long as 5 to 6 years of moving around, doing different post-docs, getting more research and teaching experience. That would be very destabilizing, that would be very long hours for very very uncertain return. And so increasingly I was coming to the realization that this wasn’t what I wanted. But I didn’t really know what else I could do, and I didn’t really know what else I wanted, because, so far, you know, it was all very single-track.

Michele:– Maybe we can call it the PhD student dilemma!

Ania:– Ahahah

Michele:– But I guess many of us have gone through this period during their PhD and most probably many of the people who are listening to this very podcast, might go through this very moments in these days.

But let’s take a look back. Would you like to share with us what drove you to start a PhD in the first place?

Ania:– I started my PhD because I was very passionate about the area I was researching. I was looking at gay and lesbian movements in Poland. Public protests, pride parades and marches, I was an activist myself, for a good couple of years before starting the PhD. It was through activism in Poland that I met a lot of academics who were then involved in the newly emerging gay and lesbian studies in Poland, and I was fascinated. I wanted to be like them. So it was very much about that passion for activism, and about being inspired by people that I saw as role model. And they encouraged me to apply for a scholarship at central European university in Budapest to do a Master in gender studies.

And that was a truly life-transforming experience: being in a classroom with people from many many different countries, there were 26 of us from 16 different countries! And that year academically was amazing! Then I wanted more of that, and I was hoping that doing PhD would be just as intellectual stimulating as my master was, and that at the end of the PhD I would be like those academics that were my role models in Poland.

It didn’t exactly turned out that way!

Michele:– Ania, it is very inspiring to hear that the drive to your PhD was your passion for the cause. In a way, I am thinking that maybe your passion for it, your willingness to bring the cause to another level was also the reason which encouraged you to do your PhD. However, at the end of your PhD, your career goals were obviously different that the ones you had at the beginning.

What happened during your PhD which made you change your mind towards a different career path?

Ania: – as I said first of all it was sinking realisation what job market was horrendous, that the job itself wasn’t really the best job in the world as sold to us by other academics, that it was something that would involve very long hours, loads of uncertainty something… something what I came to realise and acknowledge that I didn’t enjoy teaching undergraduate students that much. Not something I was willing to admit to myself and others for quite long time thought. Once I realised how much teaching would feature in having a lectureship an academic job.

I was like: Do I really want to pour all of that energy, all that time to get a job where I would have to spend awful lot of time doing something that I don’t enjoy and also I wanted more stability. I wanted a career that was a bit more future proof because increasingly I didn’t want to be this very theoretical specialist on sexualities and social movements and just to specialise in that very niche area. I wanted to be able to do something more practical and finally I was finding the reality of being a PhD student and that also I did some work as a research assistant. I really didn’t enjoy the isolation I wanted to be part of a team and I wanted to be able to work in a team and I found academic culture very isolating and people emphasizing very much that individualistic approach, which is great for some people it wasn’t great for me.

Michele:-ohh yeah Ania of course it is understandable that during your PhD, you off course matured different ideas and you grow both personally and professionally so eventually you decided to take a different career path. I also wonder how did you feel at the end of your PhD or just straight after you finished it. I mean how were you feeling during those transition times.

Ania: – It was tough at times. You know especially given the very strong messages I was getting from people in my immediate academic environment whom were hinting at the fact, that I was wasting my education and that you know if only I stuck at it for long enough, I would get something in academia. That, you know, that the whole thing about how the good people get the jobs eventually. You just need to try harder and you shouldn’t be giving up at this stage for a while. I did try harder and that realisation of ,no I don’t want to be part of that, kept growing. I think what helped is that. Well first of all I’ve always being somebody that. Has the ability to connect with what my core values are and, you know, which direction I want to take. Even if that involves going against the grain and kind of going against what the majority thinks. I mean my entire PhD and my route to academia has very much been about going against the grain and tuning out some of the not so helpful messages as of where to start with my methodology and the fact that I was focusing on LGBT issues.

A lot of people criticize that and that still continues to be a very divisive subject so I sort of had got mental preparation off. You know, you tell me my research, my activism aren’t really the right thing to be engaged with well.

So that if it’s something that speaks to my core values and that allows me to be authentic and on with it say so you only I tried to cling onto that bit that felt authentic and at that point in my life you know doing something other than academia felt authentic to me and then also only I had other things in in my life that I could focus on and find an outlet.

So I pretty much around the time as I was transitioning around academia I discovered running and fell in love with it and definitely another fantastic outlet. And even though I was no longer a full time activist as I was in Poland I was still connected to various LGBT networks I was connected to my local church. So I had that counter balance, you know, my life wasn’t just about getting the academic job there were other things in it as well.

Michele:– It is definitely a good approach to try to find the proper balance between the two. What do you think it would have changed at the beginning or your PhD if you knew what you knew at the end of your PhD. Would these change your decision. Would you have taken a different career path.

Ania: – I think I am certainly don’t regret getting the PhD however if I do know beforehand. So if I’d known beforehand the state of the academic job market. If I’d known beforehand that if you want an academic job I mean at leased in the UK there’s a certain hierarchy of universities so some of them are more research intensive as others aren’t and I didn’t realize how much that academic pedigree is important. For getting jobs later on so if I would have known all that I could have saved myself some of the hard time. I probably would have still gone you know we had with that passion project doing the research I was ready passionate about, but I would have been much better prepared for job hunting afterwards and. So if that consciously choosing what to do afterwards because I was very unprepared to search for non academic job. There was nothing during my course that prepared me for it.

Not not to mention the additional challenge that I had at the time. I’m not from the UK I came I came to the UK then years ago from Poland so it wasn’t just learning about job hunting it was also learning about a job hunting in that country where I’m not a citizen and where the culture is different so having more preparation in that respect that would have helped.

Michele:– Thank you very much Ania for sharing with us the story of your PhD transformation your transitioning into your career path. I’m pretty sure that there are many details and anecdotes those are going out of the time and the scope of this podcast. And I’m also positive that many of the people which are listening to this podcast are experiencing or have experienced in the past a similar situation so they we see themselves projected into your story.

Let’s jump back to the present time and at the beginning of this podcast you mentioned that you were active in the career coach and support of PhD students and graduates. would you like to describe in more detail what is your engagement in this regard?

Ania: – Definitely. First of all I benefited from coaching and mentoring tremendously on my post PhD journey and I have the opportunity to do a certificate and coaching and mentoring at the institution where I work and that gave me an opportunity to combine my personal experiences and my newly acquired skills as a as a coach to provide support to other PhD students and graduates on their journeys and to help people find careers that are meaningful to them. And give them the tools to acquire these careers because that is something that I learnt through my own transition journey is that job hunting you know it’s not magic. It’s a skill that that can be learned.

So I’m trying to bring that into the coaching practice I have at the moment and I’m also actively sharing my story and any tools that could be useful to people through my website which is phdcareercoach.co and I am a guest blogger for a couple of UK academic web sites including jobs.ac.uk and findaphd.com and that combines my ongoing passion for coaching engagement and writing and sharing my story essentially.

Michele:– Well thank you very much Ania for sharing the details of the platforms where you are active. I’m pretty sure that many of our listeners will reach you and will benefit from the work you’re doing. With this I wish to thank you for your contribution to Phd career stories. It’s being a privileged to hear your story and to be here interviewing you.

Ania: – Well thank, you thank you once again.

Michele:– I really hope that other listeners would like to contribute in the same way as you have done today. With this I would like to conclude this interview and extend my gratitude to whoever is listening to this podcast. I also wish to remind that if you want to leave us a comment or a feedback you can do it in the section below. You can find us on the internet on phdcareerstories.com or you can find us on Facebook on PhDCareerStories or on Twitter PhDCareerPod we are also on Instagram and our podcast is available for download on iTunes.

Thank you very much for listening and have a nice day!

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